Susan J. Demas
The Michigan Senate in bipartisan fashion on Thursday approved more election reform bills.
Most are less controversial bills in a 39-bill GOP package, which many Democrats and voter rights groups have called an overall effort to suppress votes, were introduced in March. Since former President Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election, he and other GOP leaders have promoted several conspiracy theories about voting issues culminating in Republicans introducing hundreds of voter restriction bills this year in states across the country.
The Senate’s action comes after the Senate Oversight Committee earlier this week released a 35-page report concluding that there is no widespread evidence of voter fraud during the 2020 general election. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes. And a record number of more than 5.5 million Michiganders voted.
The state Senate has 20 Republicans and 16 Democrats, with two seats vacant.
Senate Bill 277, sponsored by Sen. Michael MacDonald (R-Macomb Twp.), would in part authorize county clerks to flag, but not remove, the registration record of a deceased voter. It passed 32-3.
Senate Bill 302, sponsored by Sen. Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Twp.), would require a voter to acknowledge on their voter registration form they understand it is a felony to vote more than once in the same election, whether in the same or a different location, such as a second residence. It passed 30-5. Democrats Stephanie Chang, Adam Hollier, and Sylvia Santana, all of Detroit, as well as Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor and Erika Geiss of Taylor voted against the measure.
“Making sure each person understands the law and only votes once in an election is essential for an accurate vote count,” said LaSata through a statement. “My bill, along with other reforms approved today, will help improve elections in our state both now and in the future.”
Geiss told the Advance after the session “nothing to improve voting or expand access to the ballot” was a part of Senate Bill 302 and most of the 39-bill package is “unnecessary.” In a separate conversation, Hollier said that he voted no on Senate Bill 302 because it “makes it more difficult for people to vote.”
Senate Bill 311, sponsored by Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), would require the state to establish a process to allow for members of the armed forces, who are on active duty, absent from the United States, and not expected to return home in time to cast their vote, to electronically return their ballot to their city or township clerk using a U.S. Department of Defense verified electronic signature. It passed 34-1.
Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Paul Wojno (D-Warren), would define “United States Department of Defense [DOD] verified electronic signature” as the certificate-based digital identification code issued to qualified personnel by the DOD as the Common Access Card or its successor. It passed 34-1.
The bills will now be referred to committees in the state House of Representatives.
The Senate last week passed three bills that would make it more difficult for voters to vote absentee and at the ballot box if they aren’t able to present a state-issued photo ID. The action drew fierce objections from Democrats that the new rules would be especially harmful to vulnerable voters and communities of color.
Senate Bill 303 is a “carbon copy” of the more than 300 voter suppression bills being introduced in state legislatures in 48 states, “funded by special interests seeking to retain their undue influence on the politicians,” said Quentin Turner, Common Cause program director through a statement issued on Thursday.
“It is unacceptable that our legislators are so cravenly attempting to silence the will of the voters by rigging the rules of the game,” Turner said. “The proposed legislation will do nothing but confuse voters, put up more barriers to cast a ballot, and drown out the voices of everyday Michiganders. When voters have an equal say on the issues that impact their daily lives, we can secure a government that is accountable to the people, not the special interests or secret big money donors.”
The bills come after the state passed a constitutional amendment expanding voter rights in 2018. More than two-thirds of Michigan voters passed Proposal 3, a constitutional amendment that allows for no-reason absentee voting, same-day voter registration, straight-ticket voting and more.
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